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How Serious Is the Succession Issue at Berkshire?

Jason Stipp

Jason Stipp: I'm Jason Stipp for Morningstar. We're here at the 8th Annual Value Investor Conference in Omaha, and we're talking to some Buffett experts and authors about the succession issue at Berkshire Hathaway: What does it mean for the company, and should the company be more transparent about its future plans?

John Price: I know he says that every board meeting that they have, they spend about 50% of the time talking about succession. I think it's time to make that a little bit more open to the shareholders who really are the real owners of the business.

Lauren C. Templeton: As an investor in Berkshire Hathaway, you're entrusting your capital to Warren Buffett, and I trust that he will make wise financial decisions on my behalf, and I also trust that he will choose somebody to succeed him and make a wise decision in that regard.

Roger Lowenstein: I think the board has to be very involved, and I don't see "more involved" because I'm not in the board rooms, I don't know how involved it is. But I think they had to be very involved; succession, supervision, as the board is in any company. And they could use people on the board, I think, who aren't as close to Buffett as quite a few of them are.

Robert Miles: Their succession plan is dependent on when Warren retires. He jokingly says he's going to retire five years after his death. So he if he retires in the next five or 10 years, that's going to be a different candidate than if he retires, hopefully, 20 years from now.

So I think it's the media who is creating this interest in a succession plan, when it's in place and actually was recently demonstrated with David Sokol's resignation. As soon as he resigned, there were four people named to succeed him, and the board of directors acted very quickly to name chairmen and CEOs of the businesses that David Sokol was running.

Sham M. Gad: Let's be honest: Warren Buffett is Berkshire Hathaway, Berkshire Hathaway is Warren Buffett. Having said that, I haven't come across a CEO that has done so much to sort of plan for the day after than he has. As Buffett says, a board meeting at Berkshire doesn't go by without them talking about the succession. Look, you've got Standard Oil with Rockefeller, it sort of changed; you got Carnegie Steel. It's not going to be the same in the way people expect it to be. You are not going to have him at the Annual Meeting; he is not going to be the one writing the letters, but he has definitely turned and transformed the company into, I think, something that's just really going to be special even when he is gone.

Roger Lowenstein: There is some competitive advantage to the culture that Berkshire has, the kinds of companies it attracts, the freedom it gives entrepreneurs who sell their companies and so on, but you take Buffett out of it and you are taking Babe Ruth out of the Yankees lineup. It's going to be different place.